In this Goulet Q&A episode, Brian talks about pen brand relationships, if broads are more troublesome than fines, and where “free ink” comes from. Enjoy!

This week:

  • Amazing weather, lots of kid time
  • CRAZY week for us, vendor visits, lots of year end reporting and annual planning, January we just live in spreadsheets
  • Not launching a whole ton right now
  • Maiora Impronte, Aurora Hastil, Edison Collier Rock Candy
  • TWSBI Eco White/RoseGold in the wings
  • Thursday Jan 23 is National Handwriting Day, so let’s all enjoy writing with some pens and sharing about it in real life and on social

Pens/Writing

1) elladrawing- Instagram (3:33)

Are broad nibs more prone to having issues than fine nibs?

  • I would say generally no, they have more of certain types maybe
  • fine nibs usually have more of an issue with flow, feeling scratchy, or variation in size from nib to nib just because tolerances are finer, there’s less surface area of tipping on the page, and the capillary action is drawing less ink through the nib, so they can be slightly more sensitive to clogs (like with shimmer ink)
  • broader nibs are usually wetter and feel smoother
  • the one issue you see consistently more with broad nibs is hard starting and skipping due to baby’s bottom, which is when the nib is ground TOO smooth
  • it’s SUCH fine tolerances between baby’s bottom an a finely tuned nib it’s crazy, and manufacturers often err on the side of baby’s bottom than feeling scratchy

2) @TankCruisin- Twitter (15:49)

What’s a good, sub-$100 EDC for people who ink a pen up, write with it a bit, then throw it in their work bag and forget they own that pen until they need it 3-9 weeks later? I know about Platinum and TWSBI, but are there any that use standard international cartridges?

  • ummm….I’ll be honest, this isn’t where fountain pens really shine
  • if you want a throw-it-in-your-bag-for-weeks-and-forget-about-it pen, that’s exactly what ballpoints and rollerballs do best
  • they’re cheap, they’ll start up (maybe with some prompting), and you aren’t really getting much of an “experience” from them, they just do a job
  • fountain pens are more maintenance, and while there are some that you can forget for a while, this is pushing the limits of their best use
  • TWSBI does great here with Eco/580/mini/vac700R, Platinum too with Preppy/Prefounte/Procyon/3776, they will be some of the best for the job
  • Your mileage will certainly vary here, but these would be some of the top contenders I can think of:
  • Kaweco may do well here, perhaps Monteverde Monza, Jinhao 51A/X450/X750, Diplomat Magnum/Traveler/Esteem, Traveler’s Company Brass Pen, maybe Conklin Duragraph
  • any of the more expensive pens make me a little nervous with the “throw into their work bag” qualification, and metal-bodied pens would undoubtedly be the most protected

Ink

3) drainer_a- Instagram (24:06)

If you could bring back three limited edition inks, which ones would you choose and why?

  • Lamy Dark Lilac (though Lamy Crystal Azurite is a great sub)
  • Pelikan Edelstein Turmaline (for Rachel)
  • Parker Penman Sapphire, though honestly there are good modern alternatives to it (Organics Studio Nitrogen), so this is a toss up for me with Lamy CopperOrange

4) feleciafancybottom- Instagram (33:27)

Do ink cartridges tend to dry out faster than converters?

  • from a functional standpoint, no not really, it’s the nib that’s going to dry out first, not the filling mechanism
  • technically, the plastic used in disposable cartridges (not 100% sure but looks like HDPE like milk jugs or something similar) is more permeable than converter plastic, so when sitting for months or years it could leech moisture more, but the nib will usually have dried out first, so it doesn’t really matter
  • maintain your pens well, keep that ink flowing, and you won’t have to worry about the speed of any filling mechanism drying out

Business

5) thebatrachotoxin- YouTube (37:51)

I’ve been a customer since 2016, and I tried to make an order last week, alas, you don’t deliver to Brazil anymore, why is that? I mean, we all know that our taxes are abusive and our customs are horrible, but we all know that, if we order from abroad, you should expect to pay and wait. I felt sad about it, can you explain why? And if it is the customs stuff, you should resume the ordering and put up a big disclaimer that you can’t accept returns for our sad customs… thank you

  • yeah, this one’s a bummer
  • we’ve had challenges shipping to Brazil since our founding, there are high customs fees (usually 100% of the product price), unreliable tracking, lots of returned packages, damage, loss in transit
  • the recent straw that broke the camel’s back was a new Brazilian regulation requiring us to attain, securely store, and remit your CPF (equivalent to the US Social Security Number) and we simply don’t have a good way to do that
  • FedEx has required this previously so we couldn’t offer that as a shipping option, but now our USPS shipping consolidator who handles all our USPS international mail is required to collect it to, so we have no other options
  • it was too burdensome on us to be able to do this, so we’ve regretfully had to stop offering to Brazil
  • there may be US-based shipping consolidators that you could work with, we know sometimes people do that when buying internationally
  • they could have the systems in place to handle that sensitive information, and you could order from us and ship to them (since they’re in the US), but we don’t have an affiliation with a particular consolidator, we’ll keep our eyes open though
  • I’m very very sorry!

6) journaltimesimagination- Instagram (44:20)

How are you guys able to give away free bottles of ink with some purchases?

  • there’s really no such thing as “free ink”, as the economic adage says about free lunch, someone’s paying for it
  • the original saying goes back to turn of the 20th century where American bars/saloons would offer free lunches with the purchase of a drink, of course the food was high in salt which would make a person thirsty…thus making them drink and the bar would make up it’s losses in drinks
  • that’s not quite our situation, though this is most certainly a tactic many retailers (in general, not so much in the pen world) employ
  • Specific to us here at Goulet:
  • sometimes it’s us just eating the cost, because we may have slow-moving inventory and we would rather take a hit on margin than have overstock sitting on the shelf
  • sometimes it’s a promotional thing, we might work out an arrangement with a manufacturer who’s trying to get attention or awareness around a new pen (or ink), so it’s almost a sort of loss leader
  • sometimes there might have been a misorder, double order, or something else kooky that gives us or the manufacturer more stock than they want, and they want to move it on through
  • sometimes we do promotions like that and just lose out on margin so that we can help ride out slower times of the year and keep our team members busy and working, we’d rather sacrifice our own profitability than risk bad morale or losing good people because of demand fluctuations
  • there are a number of reasons that could even overlap, so each circumstance is kind of unique

7) Hercule Poirot- YouTube (59:11)

If you carry a pen company, do you require a constant supply of products? For example, if you wanted to carry a small, new brand that couldn’t carry out a continuous supply, but released batches or what not, would you still carry them? Or if a company who you only carry special editions of, like Pelikan, if all the releases are uber popular, how would you handle a complete lack of stock for a company?

  • we don’t “require” anything, though we certainly like to dream!
  • stock supply is one of our biggest challenges, this industry is just really small
  • most of what we deal with is small batches with irregular supply, that’s more the norm than the exception, so yeah, we’ll still carry them
  • We deal with super small companies like Organics Studio, Noodler’s (believe it or not), Herbert, Edison, all single-digit companies, maybe just one person
  • if they make good products and we can get enough of it to come out ahead and not frustrate everyone, we’ll do it, as long as communication is good
  • We have plenty of other companies where special editions are pretty much everything for us, Pelikan being a very pertinent example, and we “handle it” by leaning into the opportunities when they come, and begging and pleading with them when they aren’t here!
  • this is part of the reason why we (as a company for our own stability) diversify our brands, we’re not beholden to any one brand or supplier, so when we have outages it hurts but doesn’t cripple us
  • it’s a simple diversification strategy just like if you were dollar-cost averaging in the stock market, we acquire brands steadily, ride some highs, ride out some dips, and we as a company will grow over time with the general market (this is way oversimplified, of course!)

8) Connor Adlam- YouTube (1:08:48)

I’ve noticed that over the years brands have come and gone with some level of regularity on GP. Do you find that once you carry a new brand, interested customers buy and then sales slow as everyone who wanted a product got it? Once a customer buys a pen it’s unlikely that they would want another identical pen so does that factor in to your decisions to add and drop brands over the years?

  • Sure, that does happen, it really depends though
  • new stuff is interesting, especially to veterans of the hobby, so the innovators and early adopters will jump on new things which spike demand
  • this is part of why you see so many special and limited editions coming out, from new and established brands alike
  • assuming it doesn’t fall flat and we can cover our fixed costs of all the overhead to launch a new brand (which is not insignificant), then we get on track relatively quickly
  • for a brand or model to really have legs though, it has to be established and a solid reputation for a while, with some universal appeal
  • think Lamy 2000, Pilot Vanishing Point, Custom 823, Visconti Homo Sapiens, Lamy Safari/Al-Star, TWSBI Eco/580, these are all mainstays of the community, and they maintain a sustained level of demand beyond the initial launch
  • When we’re looking to launch whole new brands, we’re always hoping for a long-term relationship, and often we’ll hold off until we feel we’re both ready for that to happen!
  • it’s tough though, iconic evergreen brands aren’t just waiting around in abundance, so sometimes we have to take some risks
  • at the end of the day, if it’s an amazing product, fairly-priced, good availability, and differentiates itself enough in the community, then we’re likely not going to drop it because it’ll sell well enough to keep going
  • if it’s something novel but not universally appealing, is a fad, or faces too many uphill battles with consistency, supply, quality, or other factors, then it may not stand up on its own and if our sales just aren’t there, we’ll eventually drop it
  • part of why you’re probably seeing more brands we’re dropping now than every is partly due to the fact we’ve been around longer, so we just have more brands we’ve worked with (so by the numbers, we’d have more we drop, too)
  • we also carry all the big ones we can, so now more of the newer brands we’re carrying around smaller, newer, more speculative ones and there a lot of complications that can jeopardize things
  • we do really want to support “makers”, but we’ve also bootstrapped this whole company from nothing and we know just how hard it is to make it happen…so we will often have to make some hard decisions to either wait to carry or ultimately drop the brands that can’t stand out among all the others we carry, but we’re rooting for them all!

Question of the Week: Have you ever purchased a discontinued ink, or at least stocked up on an ink you knew would be getting discontinued? (1:17:35)

Write On,
Brian Goulet